Any animal is capable of developing heatstroke. Many people believe that due to cat’s ancestors living in tropical climates, cats will be completely safe in warm weather but this is not the case. While they are at LOWER risk than dogs, this does not mean that they are at NO risk.
Heat stroke can kill and should be treated as an emergency in all animal species, including cats.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke is an illness caused when the internal body temperature rises too much. Cats regulate their temperature constantly meaning their core body temperature almost never changes. They are very sensitive to temperature changes hence the body’s ability to shiver and sweat involuntarily dependant on temperature stimulus.
However… cats are only able to sweat through their footpads. Sweating via the footpads helps to cool the footpad by producing a cooling layer of moisture over the surface of the pad. This is a very small area of the body so is therefore not a very effective cooling mechanism.
To increase their ability to lose heat, they often “lick” - applying saliva to the coat to simulate sweating. This of course means they need to drink more, and many cats will only drink a significant amount in hot weather. Cats are also just as good at finding a cool spot in summer as a warm one in the winter! However, if all else fails, then like a dog, a cat will pant to lose heat.
Panting causes excessive heat to be lost via the large surface area of the tongue and by the warm air expelled from the body. The more air leaving the body, the more warmth leaving too. Some panting may be normal on a very hot day, or after a “mad five minutes”, but constant or very heavy panting is a sign that they are much too hot - and may even indicate heatstroke is starting.
Are some cats more likely to get heatstroke than others?
Some breeds of cat are more likely to suffer from heatstroke as their appearance affects how effectively their bodies can regulate their temperature. Flat faced, brachycephalic breeds (such as Persians) who can not breathe as effectively often struggle to pant, preventing them from cooling down. This means that they suffer heat stroke more often.
Any cat with very thick fur is more likely to suffer from heat stroke in the same way that a human wearing excessive layers of clothing is more likely to overheat. The same theory is used for overweight cats as the extra layers of fat act as extra insulation trapping heat within the body.
To regulate your cat’s body temperature, they use a series of complex mechanisms and communication pathways within the body. In young kittens, these systems are not fully developed. Likewise, older cats may struggle to regulate their body temperature as well too.
Because cats use sweating through their footpads, licking and panting in order to cool down, any issues with their breathing system or footpads can reduce the cat's ability to regulate their temperature.
What are the signs that my cat is suffering from heat stroke?
Cats normally suffer from heat exhaustion before getting heat stroke.
They will first show: panting, laying around a lot, lethargic behaviour, dribbling and foaming from the mouth.
If the heat stroke becomes serious then you may see the cat collapse, reddened skin and bright red gums. The cat may suffer from tremors or seizures.
What should I do if I think my cat is suffering from heat stroke?
If you suspect your cat has heat stroke, call us immediately! You will need to describe your cat's symptoms and if we suspect heatstroke, the case will be treated as an emergency.
If you can treat your cat from home because the symptoms are not too severe, follow the guidance below. We would recommend bringing your cat to see us following your homecare just to do a thorough check over.
While at home, you need to gradually cool your cat down. Be careful not to agitate the cat as the extra stress can increase body temperature further. If you cool your cat down too suddenly, you may send them into shock.
You should apply a damp cloth to your cat's skin. Be sure to repeatedly rotate the cloth and resoak it every 2-3 minutes in cold water to ensure the cloth remains cool.
Encourage your cat to drink small volumes of water. This can help to rehydrate the body.
How can I prevent my cat from getting heat stroke?
Your cat needs to be left with access to lots of water. If your cat enjoys being outside, place its bed or toys in the shade. This will help to encourage them to stay within that zone.
If you are aware of any lung or respiratory conditions that your cat suffers from, or your cat is very young or old or overweight, it is a good idea to keep your cat indoors during really warm weather. This protects them from direct sunlight.
If you choose to keep your pet indoors in order to prevent them from getting sunstroke, you should provide:
- An accessible clean supply of water – cats will drink more on a warmer day.
- A cool, dark hiding place in a shaded area of the room
- Ensure your cat is a healthy weight. Overweight cats find it much more challenging to regulate their body temperature.
Fun tips for your feline:
- Placing an ice cube in your cats water bowl may encourage them to drink as many cats prefer their water on the cooler side. Your cat may even get some enjoyment out of batting and licking the ice cube in their bowl, while cooling them down at the same time - just be sure to supervise them and take note of how they react to the ice.
- You can also make your cats some tasty cool treats at home - it’s like a popsicle for your cat! All you need to do is freeze the juice of your cats favourite meat along with some tap water - tuna in spring water works well here or a little bit of low-sodium chicken broth. You can also toss in a few treats for good measure! Then, use an ice cube tray or muffin tin (for bigger cubes) and give to your cat once frozen (on a plate is recommended). The taste and smell should encourage them to lick the treat but again, make sure you supervise your cat as this treat can be very exciting if your cat is warm and feeling particularly peckish!